ST. GEORGE — Recent carelessness of visitors at a Utah state park where dinosaur tracks can be found has officials reminding the public that once these ancient remains are destroyed, that history is erased forever.
Dinosaur tracks can be found throughout Southern Utah and other parts of the state, such as Red Fleet State Park in Uintah County, where visitors have been ripping up sandstone slabs containing 200-million-year-old dinosaur tracks and throwing them into a reservoir, according to a news release issued by the Utah Division of State Parks and Recreation.
The site lined with hundreds of the prehistoric raptor tracks has been heavily damaged in the past six months, Park Manager Josh Hansen said.
While this problem is quite alarming, he said, often times the people who are doing this have no idea they could be destroying millions of years of history.
The tracks are likely to have been made by a dinosaur called dilophosaurus, a member of the raptor family which stood about 8 feet tall and ambushed other dinosaurs.
“Some of the tracks are very distinct to the layperson,” Hansen said, “but just as many are not. That is why it is important to not disturb any rocks at the dinosaur trackway.”
Hansen told the Salt Lake Tribune that he recently caught a juvenile throwing slabs of stone into the reservoir. He heard two thumps into the water before docking his boat at the reservoir. Then he saw the person holding two toe imprints from a partial dinosaur track.
“I saved that one,” Hansen said. “He had already thrown multiple (tracks in the water).”
Utah State Parks spokesman Devan Chavez said his conservative estimate is that at least 10 of the larger, more visible footprints, which range from 3 to 17 inches, have disappeared in the past six months.
“It’s become quite a big problem,” Chavez said. “They’re just looking to throw rocks off the side. What they don’t realize is these rocks they’re picking up, they’re covered in dinosaur tracks.”
Some of the slabs sink to the bottom of Red Fleet Reservoir, some shatter upon hitting the surface and others dissolve entirely.
“Some of them are likely lost forever,” Chavez said.
To his knowledge, none of the areas managed by the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation in Southern Utah have been vandalized in this way, Chavez told St. George News.
St. George-area residents and visitors can view many specimens in several well-established areas, such as the Warner Valley Dinosaur Tracks, the Dino Cliffs Dinosaur Tracks in the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area and the Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm.
Special care should be taken should dinosaur tracks be found that may not have been previously identified. Justina Parsons-Bernstein of Utah State Parks advises of the following when coming across such finds:
- Notify proper land management entity, such as the Bureau of Land Management or Department of Natural Resources, to make sure they know about the tracks.
- To discourage looting, do not disclose the location of track site with photos or otherwise.
- Do not use chalk or any other substance to outline or fill in tracks.
- Do not carve into or around tracks.
- Do not try to make casts of the tracks.
- Do not dislodge, move or pick up tracks.
- Do not touch or walk in or on the edges of tracks. Hundreds of thousands of people repeatedly touching or walking in tracks will break them down over time.
“It is illegal to displace rocks that contain the tracks,” Hansen said. “Disturbing them like this is an act of vandalism.”
Though dinosaur tracks are not fossils, they’re treated as such under Utah code. Anyone who destroys one could be charged with a felony, though no charges have been filed recently.
“We’re going to be cracking down on it a lot more,” Chavez said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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